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Sunday, April 06, 2008

R.I.P. CHARLTON HESTON (1924-2008)

When I awoke this morning I turned on NY1 News and was greeted with an announcement that caused me to perceive time as having come to a grinding halt: Charlton Heston, one of my cinematic heroes since childhood, has died at the age of eighty-four. Heston's death, inevitable though it was, carries more weight than one might expect an actor's demise would thanks to a career loaded with larger than life roles that cemented him as a manly, heroic figure who verged on the superheroic. And in the case of his indelible portrayal of Moses in Cecil B. DeMille's second filming of THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (1956), the superheroic entered the picture in no uncertain terms. The parting of the Red Sea? Holy shit, is that incredible!!! And though I've seen that film at least once per year since I was nine, it never gets old and Moses is simply too awesome for words. Fuck Superman in the ear.

Following that role, Heston personified vengeance in BEN-HUR (1959), a film second only to THE TEN COMMANDMENTS as the definitive Biblical-era epic, and a stunning cinematic achievement whose entertainment content makes the viewer unaware that the film’s about two days long.

Heston rocking the house as Judah Ben-Hur.

The chariot race sequence has deservedly gone down in history as one of the most exciting things ever to unfold upon the big screen, and every time I see it there are moments when I forget to breathe.

Heston’s turn as Taylor, the time-displaced astronaut who lands in a world of allegorical horror in PLANET OF THE APES (1968), saw the actor’s skills as a hero used to impressive effect as he faces a city of advanced simian adversaries who seek to dissect and/or castrate him, all while’s clad in naught but a loincloth so nasty looking that you can practically smell it.

Taylor. Motherfucking Taylor. Need I say more???

Heston’s booming, partially growled voice is unforgettable here, especially when he utters the immortal “Get your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!!!” I love that scene for a number of reasons, but the idea of what’s supposed to be a dumb animal not only speaking to his ape captors, but also cursing them out cracks me the hell up. The look on the faces of the apes when this happens is priceless.

Heston was also great as a cop in the overpopulated future dystopia of SOYLENT GREEN (1973), paired with the equally excellent Edward G. Robinson. The famous reveal at the film’s end is now a part of the pop culture reference lexicon, and is even quoted by people who’ve never seen the film.

Heston and Edward G. Robinson in SOYLENT GREEN (1973).

I know I’m rambling here, but I truly loved to see Charlton Heston work, and his passing marks, for me anyway, perhaps the final real “movie star” going the way of the Aurochs, and that breaks my heart. Maybe the current generation will feel a similar sense of loss when actors such as Nicole Kidman or Orlando Bloom join the Choir Invisible, but somehow I doubt it will have the same meaning; Charlton Heston was hooked into real movie magic, and like many of our resources that’s something that’s fast dwindling in this era of movies amounting to little more than product.

So thank you, Charlton Heston. Thank you for contributing to the dream machine that was old school Hollywood, and may you find great reward for your efforts in whatever afterlife there may be. “So let it be written, so let it be done.”


Jared said...

"We keep you alive to serve this ship. So row well, and live" was my favorite line in Ben Hur. When he delivered it back to the general that is.

John Bligh said...

Maybe he's just wandering in the desert for the next 40 years ranting about coveting things and shit?

...And one good performance aside, I can't imagine anyone being all that upset whenever Legolas kicks it. There are only a few current A-list movie stars who have reached Heston's level. He ain't one of them. Still, he's got many years to go...

Anonymous said...

Agreed. Don't forget his turn as the Player King in Brannaugh's version of Hamlet. Heston stopped the show for three or four minutes of utter thespian bliss. He may have been a gun-waving psycho in real life, but the man had presence, chops and committment to a role.

Of the current crop, I feel only Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe and Johnny Depp have "the stuff of legend" in them - and Washington is arguably part of an older generation of actors, even though his work is as vital as ever.

Tom said...

don't forget Welles' "A Touch of Evil". even though Welles didn't want him cast in that, he still made a good job of it.

but then there's that whole NRA thing...

Anonymous said... many Passovers that all I wanted was to chow down on a pastrami on rye when forced to eat matzoh - my one release was the annual showing of the Ten Commandments. As I got older I developed the "Moses Moses" drinking game as that's the only way his name was pronounced through most of the movie. Charlton you will be missed.

Anonymous said...

You know what i missed by bieng born mid seventies?
Ever thinking the "flamboyant" mini scarf crevatte tie thing like Chuckton is wearing in the soylent green shot was manly. Talk about fred from scooby doo...
I guess missing out on the seventies isn't as all bad as i once thought.
-mike (big)